Monthly Archives: March 2010

Book #9 – Space Beagle!

Book #9 – The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. van Vogt

This book is noted as being the inspiration for Alien and indeed a settlement was paid to van Vogt by 20th Century Fox because of the similarities.  I can see that, though from the POV of a young-ish reader in 2010, it’s hard to imagine science fiction without the trope of an alien using a human as a host for reproduction. The work that Space Beagle has obviously influenced is Star Trek. This novel is a collection of four stories that are gently connected. In each, the Beagle encounters a space-bound threat; red-shirts die. But there is no Federation in the cold darkness of van Vogt’s space. That makes these stories more tense than any Trek episode.

Also, there is no Capt. Kirk. Instead, van Vogt’s hero is Grosvenor, a multi-disciplined scientist who saves the day by seeing past the short-comings of his specialist colleagues. Underneath the questionable pychobabble-based science, van Vogt does have an interesting point about the dangers of over-specializing versus taking a broader view of sciences, both hard and soft. Since this very thing plays a roll in the Zeta Iota project that Eric and I are working on, I was pleased with the serendipity.

The writing is…perfunctory. Van Vogt tells the stories. There is some description, but not much.  There is some dialog, but not much. People exclaim when they really…wouldn’t.  Still, the first story ("Black Destroyer" or Ch. 1-6) held my attention completely.

I have three choices for my next ten days: Starship TroopersBattlefield Earth, and  Clear and Present Danger. There is no way I’d be able to read Battlefield Earth in ten days. Well, I could, but I wouldn’t be doing much else. Actually, the Clancy in ten days might be difficult too.  April 10th is another Read-a-Thon. Maybe that will help. Leaning toward the Clancy.

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In the realm of short fiction for this ten-day:
"Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky; lovely story about robots, love, and identity. Swirsky has become a name I’ll look out for.
"In the Porches of My Ears" (PDF) by Norman Prentis; Prentis just won a Stoker for this story. It is horror in its most subtle form.
"How Interesting: A Tiny Man" by Harlan Ellison; An look at how a wonderful curiosity can be utterly destroyed.

2010 First Quarter Summary

Model Species, or using Science! to change a manuscript

Back in December, Eric and I did a semi-final polish on Model Species and, in January, I started sending it out to agents. But, one thing still bugged Eric about the manuscript: the first chapter. During a read-through in 2009 (I think), it occurred to him that it might be better if the second chapter was the first. With my horror sensibility, I found the first chapter to be a great hook. The second chapter didn’t seem as compelling to me. Eric, on the other hand, found the mystery in the second chapter to be as persuasive. Being too close to the project, I decided we needed data. So, I enlisted a dozen friends and acquaintances to read the first three chapters for me. I gave about half of them a PDF with the original first chapter and the other half a PDF with the chapters reversed, and asked what they thought of the given excerpt. (Here are links to both PDFs: Original & Reversed.) The results generally supported Eric’s hypothesis: Everyone who read the “reversed” manuscript thought the first chapter worked. While the results for the original were similar, there were also comments that the original first chapter might be a little off-putting. In other words, there’s a chance that the original first chapter is a turn-off rather than a hook, while the second chapter works just as well for a hook. From here on out, the manuscript will be changed to reflect that. A big Thank You! goes out to everyone who helped with this little bit of writing “science.”

Zeta Iota, or the new project

After puttering around with the idea during NaNoWriMo and a serious discussion with Eric about it January, I wrote 10K words on Zeta Iota. The plot elements are there. The setting (far fallen future) is not.  The next step is to start over from scratch, word-wise. Eric has been uber patient with me on this, so I assume he thinks I can do this…eventually. I’m reading more SF in an effort to become more comfortable in that skin.

Pas de Chat, or that *other* horror novel

In January, I also took a look at where Pas de Chat was: nearing the bottom of the potential agents list. It isn’t terribly helpful that PdC is modern horror, not period horror like Lucinda at the Window and not science fiction like, well, all the other novels. I’m also not excited about going the small press route with another book. What to do? Maybe it’s time to go “non-traditional.” I’m thinking about giving the sucker away online, episodically, with the possibility of a PoD edition if warranted. This is in the planning/mulling stage (I guess).

Other, or stuff that is only occasionally on the radar

Obscure Music Monday has fallen by the wayside due to a combination of laziness, being out of town, lack of excitement and disc on Mondays. I’ll probably pick it up again after league is over, or maybe do a few shorter entries since I’ve come across a few interesting things. I’m considering spiffing up a few short/flash/beginnings for #flashfriday or something like that. I need to start getting my writing out there. Or something like that.

Experiences with E-texts

I haven’t completely updated my reading list, but I put aside Conan Doyle in favor of A.E. van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle. I “checked it out” via the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. I read quite a few etexts for someone without a portable reader. A List Apart had an article on web standards for ebooks which covered many of the formatting problems that occur. Since I’m in the habit of chronicling things, I figured I’d include my impression of the etexts I’ve been reading lately.

The short stories that I’ve read online (online defined as “on a web page”) have all been HTML documents. (This is in comparison to the sort of streaming page-at-time that big publishers sometimes use for “free” ebooks.) Apex Books has had the least formatting bells and whistles, but the text was happily easy to read. Clarksworld offers slightly more formatting, using wingdings for separators, and Tor adds illustrations, but all three use the usual double space return instead of paragraph indents. I also read a short story from a Realms of Fantasy PDF. While the format of the magazine was preserved, there were artifacts of (what I’m guessing to be) non-transferred images. These didn’t interfere with the text of what I read.

Which brings me to The Voyage of the Space Beagle. It is an Adobe PDF eBook produced by Rosetta Books which is read through Adobe Digital Editions instead of Adobe Reader. The formatting is okay, though the lack of paragraph indents bothers me more in this case. Maybe it’s the font. The biggest problem are the typographical errors, such as paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences and errant punctuation. The first few chapters were pretty clean, but from about page 50+, there are more and more instances. Since I’m reading this for free through the library, I can’t complain. But if I were paying $3.99 (Kindle edition) – $8.54 (Sony eReader edition), I’d be put off by the quality. Yes, all the words to the story are there (I hope), but crummy formatting errors do a disservice to the text. Plus, no one would put up with this in a print book.

It’s interesting to note that the etexts I read that are for sale (Realms of Fantasy and the Rosetta book) were the poorer quality*. There’s an argument about how people are no longer willing to pay the real price of something. This is confused with the price that people value something at. If people do not value your product at the price that it costs to make that product plus profit, you have a problem. (That’s a basic economic principle, yes?)  Well, considering the quality of this product in this case (an electronic file of a decent novel riddled with formatting errors), I don’t value it beyond free.

*I believe I obtained the issue of Realms of Fantasy legally through a give-a-way though it is currently only available for sale.

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Since Sunday I’ve been suffering from congestion, the occasionally earache, and general tiredness. My antihistamine has taken the teeth out of my itchy allergy symptoms, but I can’t decide whether the rest is allergies or a low-grade cold. My mucus says, allergies. Mucus wouldn’t lie, would it?

Played disc Monday (played fairly well) and, while I didn’t strain my back during play, I seemed to afterward. Luckily(?), we didn’t play Wednesday. A walk to the Circle K (a block away) was excruciating. Today, it’s feeling better and I will venture a walk/run up to the mall. I’m out of hazelnut coffee and something must be done.

Sloths do move…

Strange Maps very often has cool things. Today’s post answers an interesting question. If the entire population of the US were compressed to the population density of Brooklyn, what state would we fit into? The answer is the United States of Brooklyn, NH That’s something to keep in mind when writing about enclosed populations like space stations or futuristic super-cities. (Of course, I’m assuming that this scenario includes room for public works.)

Working through changes on the first 10K of Zeta Iota at a slow pace. This book, this project, is hard semi-military sci-fi and my vocabulary in this genre isn’t extensive. I think I need to revise my reading list* to include more sci-fi and less Victorian mysteries. Or at least try to find a balance between the two. To be honest, while the Conan Doyle biography is good, I’m just not feeling it at the moment. I need a change of pace in my reading material. Plus, I should finish the Dune novels one of these days. (And yes, I pretty much wrote this same post back in December. I read one Warhammer 40K book and then went back to my “comfy” reading space.)

*I’m surprised the reading list has lasted this long. While I’m fickle about starting and finishing books, I’m doubly fickle when it comes to sticking to structured plans which I am in sole charge of.

Book #8…yet more Holmes

Book #8: The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Carol-Lynn Roessel Waugh

I took three books with me on my trip to Omaha last month. I read two and gave up on one before I came back to AZ. Determined to continue with Holmes-a-thon, I turned to my mom’s bookshelves. They are populated with three broad categories of books: my mom’s science fiction collection, random works of mid-90s vampire fiction (…she and I went through a phase…), and books I acquired in college and were left at my parent’s house after summer vacations. I’m not talking textbooks, I’m referring to the large amount of (mostly) fiction I bought or picked up from free bins at Lincoln bookstores. So many books that I generally culled the collection each summer, leaving the remainders with Mom. (I have since engaged in the reverse process: bringing books back to Arizona a few at a time after Omaha visits.) There on a shelf, beyond Scooby the Cockatiel’s cage, was The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Most likely, since there is no price in the front cover, I bought it at Page One for $4.50 (half of the cover price). After reading most of it, the better deal would have been a free bin.

The anthology had a few okay stories ("The Final Toast" by Stuart Kaminsky stands out), but most were very exposition heavy (something Doyle really isn’t) or are very concerned with social commentary (something I don’t remember Doyle’s stories being). The characters go on at great length about new technologies, such as the Gatlin gun or women’s suffrage. I didn’t finish a few stories because they bored me or quickly entered the realm of the ridiculous. I reread Doyle’s "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" as well, and again, I’m struck with how few descriptions there are. To some extent, I think the modern reader takes the Sherlock Holmes stories as a whole and weaves them together, borrowing details from one to augment all the others. The pastiche author might be left feeling that the entire rug needs to be rewove to accommodate their story.  

After a month of Sherlock Holmes fiction, I am Holmes saturated. I need a break. From the fiction at least.  I am postponing (or maybe replacing) the second anthology of Holmes short fiction on my list with the Doyle biography I bought in Madison.

Nattering about disc

Survived another double disc Wednesday. My play at noon was rather poor. Eric and I had gone throwing on Monday, and he noted that when I throw my backhand, I’m throwing mostly outside-in and stepping too far back instead of stepping forward. Since the greatest problem with my backhand is due to my right-handedness and left-eyedness, stepping backward isn’t exactly helpful. I’m attempting to correct my stance, but in the meantime, I expect my backhands to suck more than usual. And at noon, they certainly did. I might have gotten one off successfully. While I was still concerned about my backhands, I managed to do pretty well during my league game. I even ended up on the backhand side of a couple zone offenses and didn’t turn it over. Also, in the land of “Katherine can learn after eight years of doing it,” I threw over the top of a trap-zone situation. It was a wing and a prayer throw, but it worked and it was better than turning it over where I was.

‘Tis the Green Season

Happy St. Patrick’s! While I’m only passingly Irish and not overly familiar with saints, I do enjoy the modern celebration of this holiday. Today, I will wear some green and orange, (between playing too much disc) listen to good music, eat potatoes and drink beer, and maybe watch The Departed or Gangs of New York.

To help everyone enjoy, I offer the following:
Traditional music from Irish & Celtic Music Podcast #80 – St Patrick’s Day Celtic Music Celebration.
Non-traditional music from Kerbdog (Kerbdog’s YouTube Channel).

The latest adventure from the League of S.T.E.A.M:

And an old favorite: